What is Cultural Capital?

Cultural capital is a term developed and popularized by late-twentieth century French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. … Cultural capital is the accumulation of knowledge, behaviors and skills that one can tap into to demonstrate one’s cultural competence, and thus one’s social status or standing in society.

Cultural capital is the possession of tangible or intangible assets–be they institutionalized, objectified, or embodied–that promote social mobility but are distinct from financial capital. Cultural capital is measured by the value society places on an individual’s assets in a given situation. Financial capital is understood in terms of the economic power an individual can wield. The third fulcrum of power is social capital. Those who do not in and of themselves hold financial capital can through their connections access funding, publicity or vast network that creates power for themselves.

The movie star Cary Grant is an excellent example of an individual who understood cultural capital. He recreated “himself” by studying how connecting to cultural markers anointed other individuals that he admired. Hiring a speech coach, learning the manners and markers of elegance, dressing impeccably was undertaken to purposefully  transform his presence and power.

my parents who were the children of farmers and skilled laborers from the North of England and from Bosnia, Serbia went after Cultural Capital with a knowing vigilance. They knew and taught me so I could have the cultural knowledge I needed to move in a circle of more highly educated people.

And from that vantage point I read and attended plays. My father read books out loud to me from the public library such as H.G. Wells entire Outline of History. I was allowed to purchase the classical records series at the local grocery store and play the entire series repeatedly. Shakespearean plays were shown on a TV channel and my access to that program became more important than any other viewing plans that evening. My mother sewed clothing that was up to date so that I would fit in to the upper middle class high school I attended. I watched television to understand the world of dance and took dance lessons from the local parks program.

My grandparents were simple laboring people. On my father’s side they were illiterate. On my mother’s side they were barely literate. But I had access to learning in my environment.

A country can build into its structure the ability to enable its citizens to hold Cultural Capital. It begins with free day cares and pre-school programs. It extends to access to libraries, to art galleries, to public presentations of intellectual speakers. The conscious building in of culture as accessible is the way a country protects its future.

And why this is so very, very important is that those who are allowed to study and absorb ideas then go on to have self confidence in their own power. They then go on to become creative thinkers.They look at the future and see a problem and devise a solution. The society cannot ignore the intelligence and creativity that is on fire in citizens, or in new immigrants. The necessity for engineering a manner for these people to enter the gates of the leaders is foremost in the world today.

Norway has an entire generation of software designers and IT experts that have grown up from their farmer third world immigrants. The country provided free services to teach the immigrants how to navigate a new social landscape.

Canada needs to do this as well.

A person who is locked down into a lower class, who is unfamiliar with Western Civilization and cannot read can through design be systematically exposed to the vast world of ideas, history, art. It has been shown to be an effective way for them to utilize their passion and then go on to save that country.


They create small businesses that at a greater rate in Canada than Canadian born individual do. And in the future their creativity may go on to figure out how to protect water, how to prevent diseases.

We, as a society, place too much emphasis on financial capital. There are other methods of bringing value to a society.

It is one of the reasons it is so very important for people to be taught the joy and power of reading. Reading is the most rapid way to improve language thought patterns.
So a society providing free, rich, varied cultural experiences results in citizens who are acculturated.

That doesn’t happen when the citizens are having limited cultural experiences.

We have seen through studies that the people who are struggling and sitting in a lower class can rise up with access to free libraries, to free art galleries, to free lectures.

The other part is to undertake to do as Cary Grant did and know what the markers are for the leaders.

And it is entwined in knowing creativity.

Many people have recreated themselves and garnered more power by studying what is expected by the culture.

But the “markers” for the acculturated are important to know.

I  just explained to you what my parents knew and taught me so I could have the cultural knowledge I needed to move in a circle of more highly educated people.
And from that vantage point I learn even more richness of the mind: about plays, or new books, or new theories. A habit of intellectual curiosity became the driving force of my life.

It is what Cary Grant did… a poor circus acrobat who assiduously studied the culture.
He learned how to walk, how to talk, what to wear, what the cultural history was in terms of art, music, intellectual history and then he spent the rest of his life not just “passing” but by becoming one of the icons of society.